Ernestine Donaldson of Big Lake, Alaska


Ernestine Donaldson of Big Lake, Alaska

Towering mountains, arctic glaciers, and silver lakes make up the state of Alaska. Miners and trappers traveled here to live among the natives and to make themselves rich. Ernestine Roxanne Kuutug Kignak Donaldson (9) of Big Lake, Alaska, is a native Alaskan; she is rich because she has a wonderful family and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Ernestine, a Yupik Eskimo, was born in Barrow, Alaska. She is named after her grandfathers—Grandfather Roxy and Grandfather Kignak—who were both whaling captains in Barrow, Alaska. Barrow lies on the coast, over three hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle. The Donaldsons lived there for nine months, and while they were there, they became the legal guardians of two-month-old Ernestine.

There were only four or five member families in Barrow, and they met in a home for church. “You haven’t lived in Alaska until you’ve lived in a village,” Ernestine’s mother says. Barrow can be reached only by plane, and the water there is so full of iron and other minerals that the Donaldsons bought all their drinking water.

The weather in Big Lake, where Ernestine lives now with her family, is mild compared to that of Barrow. In the summer, she and her sister Danielle (7) love to swim in the lake behind their house. They swim around the dock and jump from the wave runners into the water, which is cold even in August. Ernestine can drive the wave runners all by herself. Danielle likes to pretend she is driving a trooper boat.

In wintertime, the lake turns to ice and becomes a frozen road. During those months, they ride snowmobiles instead of wave runners. Ernestine learned to drive a snowmobile when she was seven. The girls also ride in a regular car on the frozen lake! Their mother and father drive on it because it is a shorter route to the main road.

Last winter, Danielle and Ernestine learned to ice skate on the lake. Danielle said that at first it was scary to skate on the lake—she was afraid she might fall in. But soon she was zipping around on the ice.

At Christmastime, the girls prefer to wait inside the warm house while their father goes out to cut down a Christmas tree. When he brings the freshly cut tree home, they help decorate it. Christmas is their favorite holiday. And the good thing about living in Alaska is that there is always snow for Christmas! When it gets very cold, the girls wear snowsuits to play outside and make snow angels.

Ernestine and Danielle are close friends. “Danielle is more quiet and shy; she depends on Ernestine,” their mother says. “Everybody loves Ernestine, wherever she goes.” She remembers taking Ernestine to school when they lived in Bethel, and everyone started chanting her name.

She has a special talent for making friends and is very kind to everyone. When an elderly neighbor lady called, needing someone to stay with her overnight, Ernestine eagerly volunteered to go and take care of the woman.

At Primary, Ernestine enjoys playing games in Sharing Time. Danielle thinks Primary parties with hot dogs and ice cream are great fun. They both like to sing their favorite song, “I Am a Child of God.” Someday Ernestine may play that song in church, because she is learning to play the piano.

Her favorite toy is a double easel—she can draw on paper on one side, and on a chalkboard on the other. Art is her favorite subject in school. She and Danielle both like sports and play on soccer teams. They practice flips on the trampoline and even like to jump when it’s raining outside! With the lake right in their backyard, there is always a boat to watch and a place to swim. One of Ernestine’s favorite places to go is to the neighbors’ because they have a basketball hoop.

One night Ernestine had to go across the lake with her family in the middle of the night because a forest fire threatened their home. At 1:30 A.M. her mother woke her up, and they all loaded into the boat and went across the lake. She felt frightened, and she worried about their house. “We saw flames from clear across the lake!”

She spent that night on the boat with her mother and her sisters, Loralee (18) and Danielle. Her father, a state trooper, patrolled the lake, rescuing people. As the fire zigzagged a black path through the area, Ernestine and her family lived out of their car the next night, then went to a friend’s house for two days. They went to the meetinghouse to get clothes and supplies. When they were finally able to return to their house, she felt very thankful to Heavenly Father that it had not been burned and that almost all of the ward members’ houses were untouched by the fire.

Ernestine Donaldson may not be a miner or a trapper, but she knows that what she has is better than gold: her family, the Church, and the beautiful land of Alaska.

[photos] Photographed by Rebecca Todd

[photo] 1. Ernestine

[photo] 2. With her sister and close friend, Danielle

[photo] 3. Biking near her home

[photo] 4. In the cold(!) lake behind their house

[photo] 5. Trampoline fun

[photo] 6. At the lake with Ryan Contreras (5), their nephew

[photo] 7. Riding the wave runner

[photo] 8. A friendly game of checkers

[photo] 9. Drawing on the double easel